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Conservation Agriculture: Win-win Outcome for Soil Carbon and Crop Yield

May 28, 2020

A research group led by Prof. HUANG Yao at the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have teamed up with Australian and UK scientists to clarify global patterns of the dual benefit of conservation agriculture in removing atmospheric carbon dioxide and improving crop yield which represents a promising opportunity for climate mitigation and sustainable food security to achieve sustainable development goals.  

Conservation agriculture was a movement that developed in the 1970s. It has been shown to have multiple benefits for soils, crop yield and the environment, and consequently, no-till, more soil cover and improved rotations, has rapidly expanded.

As the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offset them with carbon sequestration gains urgency, much is made of the potential for agricultural soils to act as a carbon sink. However, globally, the controls and regions where conservation agriculture leads to both increased soil carbon accumulation and crop yield, and where either one might have a loss or no change, are poorly known.  

The research team found that global patterns of soil carbon sequestration and crop yield change due to the adoption of conservation agriculture can be associated with large climatic patterns. Relative to local conventional tillage, arid regions can benefit the most from conservation agriculture by achieving a win-win outcome of enhanced C sequestration and increased crop yield. However, more humid regions are more likely to increase SOC only, while some colder regions have yield losses and soil C loss as likely as soil C gains.  

Providing enough food for the growing global population and stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are the two greatest challenges that humanity faces this century. This study refines our understanding of where the win-win outcome of enhanced carbon sequestration and increased crop yield can be reasonably achieved using the existing principles of conservation agriculture, and stimulates further scrutiny of management approaches to increase the win–win opportunities.  

This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the National Key R&D Program of China. 

 

Global patterns of changes in soil organic carbon and crop yield after adopting conservation agriculture (Image by IBCAS) 

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HUANG Yao

Institute of Botany

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Climate drives global soil carbon sequestration and crop yield changes under conservation agriculture

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